About the LSA Member Spotlight

Originally created in 2011 and now making its debut on the new LSA website, the LSA Member Spotlight highlights the interests and accomplishments of a different LSA member each month.  If you would like to be featured in a Member Spotlight, or would like to recommend someone else to be featured, please contact David Robinson, the LSA's Director of Membership and Meetings.

Click here to see previous Member Spotlights.

Iman Laversuch Nick (University of Cologne)

Iman Laversuch Nick is a sociolinguist at Cologne University in Germany.  She holds a PhD in English Linguistics, an MA in German Linguistics, a BA in Germanic Languages and Literature, and a BSc in Clinical and Social Psychology. In the Summer of 2010, she was awarded the German post-doctoral degree, the Habilitation, for her research in Linguistics.   She is currently completing a MSc at the University of Liverpool in Forensic and Investigative Psychology.  Her areas of specialization include Forensic Linguistics, English Dialectology, Multilingualism, Language Policy, and Onomastics.  She is the newly elected Chair of the LSA Committee for Ethnic Diversity in Linguistics and the First Vice President of the American Name Society.

Q: When did you first join the LSA?

I joined the LSA while I was an undergraduate student, in the early to mid 1990’s.  Initially, my interest was simply to gain information about important opportunities and developments in the field.  Over time, I also became curious about and interested in the actual organization and operation of the LSA.

Q: What was your motivation to join and then expand your involvement?

When I initially joined the LSA, I must admit that I found the society rather overwhelming. Especially as an undergraduate, the sheer size of the organization was intimidating.  At the same time, I remember feeling exhilarated by having an opportunity to attend so many different fascinating lectures during the annual conferences.  From early in the morning till late in the evening, I attended one lecture after another and discovered some of the most cutting-edge research being conducted in the field.  It was both thrilling and inspiring to be able to hear and see live and in person, linguists whose work I had come to admire over the years.  The LSA meetings were a chance for me to meet some of my heroes.

At the same time, I also have to admit that some of those encounters were also extremely disappointing.  As an undergraduate student, it was sometimes devastating to discover that some of the academics whom I had once idolized from afar were incredibly arrogant and self-aggrandizing in person.  I came to see that academia was really no different than any other profession.  It has its stars and more than its fair share of prima donnas. As negative as those examples were, they in no way overshadowed the incredible generosity and kindness which I also encountered in the LSA.  It is here, through this organization and sister societies, like the American Name Society, that I had the privilege of meeting truly gifted scholars, people who inspired me with their personal and professional integrity.  Over the years, many of those mentors became my colleagues and friends.  It was those experiences, both positive and negative, that inspired me to become actively involved in the organization of the LSA.

Q: What is the most important service the LSA provides its members? The field?

In my opinion, the most important service which the LSA provides its members is a supportive, informational network.  Whether through the internet or the annual meetings, the LSA offers an opportunity for linguists to not only keep abreast of important changes and developments within the field, as well as to build cooperative alliances with other professions located within the United States and beyond. It is this network which then offers the foundation for the individual members and the society as a whole to promote excellence within the field and to make invaluable contributions to the international scientific community of linguistics.

Q: What is your current research and how did you become interested in it?

In the past, my research interests have centred around language-policy and planning. In particular, my work has focussed on the ways in which institutional language policies impact upon the social identities of disadvantaged ethnoracial minorities, both in the United States and in Germany.  My initial interest in this field came from my first teaching abroad.  It was the beginning of the Political Correctness movement, and I remember being repeatedly asked by my German students what I wished to be called:  “African American, Afro-American, Black, Negro, Coloured” or simply “American”.   

In the discussions which followed, I found that selecting a name for myself was no easy task.  As the daughter of two Leftist parents who were politically active during the Civil Rights Movement, I felt ill at-ease with the growing political demonization of the name “Black”.  However, I also intensely objected to the essentialist reductionism inherent in this name.  I felt the same dissatisfaction with names like African-American and Afro-American. My family was made up of many different cultural groups: African, German, Mexican, Native American, French. Why then should only one of those heritages be linguistically privileged over the others?  And why did US Americans insist on creating and naming racial groups given the horrors which these divisions had historically wrought.

It was this interest in finding answers to these questions and exploring the underlying connection between language, identity, and law which triggered not only my subsequent doctoral research into US governmental policies for ethnoracial naming.  It also served as the primary impetus for my current research interest in forensic linguistics.  More specifically, I am interested in investigating the potential effect which ethnoracial names listed in defendant profiles might have upon the formal judgements and decision-making of officials within the criminal justice system.

Q: What, in your opinion, are the biggest challenges facing the field of linguistics today?

In my opinion, there are two different challenges which the field of linguistics faces today.  Internally, I think that the field has suffered greatly from the notion of “core linguistics.” By privileging one area or methodological approach over others, an artificial hierarchy of  legitimacy has been constructed within the field.  As a result, the scholarly work and societal contributions of many outstanding researchers has been systematically, though covertly, denigrated.  The result has been a progressive alienation of many linguists whose academic interests have been relegated to the outermost periphery of the field. This is, in my opinion, a tragic and, quite frankly, rather dangerous development.  Part of the strength of linguistics lies in its incredible diversity.  By failing to properly nurture the natural scientific heterogeneity of this field and its practitioners, we not only critically undermine its potential to make substantive contributions to the overarching pursuit of scientific exploration.  We also severely limit the capacity of this field to make critical contributions to the communities we are ethically bound to serve; and therein lies the second, external, challenge facing this field: socio-political action.

In my personal experience, many people in the general public still do not have a clear understanding of what linguistics is and what specifically linguists do. This means that our services are still comparatively rarely consulted in situations where our expertise could be of enormous service.  For this reason, I think that it is imperative that linguists, and by extension, the Linguistic Society of America, become far more active in seeking ways to serve our communities in times of conflict.  Given our expertise, linguists are in a superior position to facilitate vital communicative processes and to give counsel regarding the ways in which language policies and practices can directly and significantly impact upon people’s quality of life.  Rather than wait for our opinion to be solicited, I would like to see far more proactive action on the part of the LSA in informing legislative policies on all levels of governance. The collective and individual acknowledgment of this professional ethical imperative is, in my opinion, the single greatest extern